St. Louis Then and Now: The Former Famous-Barr Building Downtown

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Famous-Barr downtown, Christmas shopping 1967

Posted by Vintage St. Louis & Route 66 on Sunday, December 6, 2020

Built in 1914, the Railway Exchange Building in downtown St. Louis used to be the home to the flagship Famous-Barr store and headquarters of the May Department Stores Company.

Back in the day, this Famous-Barr located at the corner of Olive Street and North 6th Street was the place to see and be seen. And as the first air-conditioned department store in the country, it was also a place to escape from the heat out on the streets.

Christmas shopping at this department store was an event, so much so that memories of visiting the store or even just stopping by to check out the elaborate displays in the windows is a happy memory for generations of St. Louisans.

The photo above, posted by the Vintage St. Louis & Route 66 Facebook page, shows the bustling sidewalks outside the store during the Christmas shopping season in 1967.

The window displays there were a must-see back then and checking them out has become a favorite pandemic pastime this year, too, with tons of locals showing up for guided tours of the Central West End’s annual Window Walk.

The Railway Exchange Building is no longer home to Famous-Barr (they sold to Macy’s in 2006 and Macy’s closed the downtown store in 2013). In fact, the Railway Exchange Building doesn’t host any businesses currently. It was purchased in 2017 by a company that has plans to make it the future site of a huge redevelopment project that will see it become offices and apartments, but none of that has happened yet.

For now it just sits empty, waiting to find a new life.

click to enlarge What the same corner looked like last summer - screengrab via Google Maps
screengrab via Google Maps
What the same corner looked like last summer

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About The Author

Jaime Lees

Jaime Lees is a digital content editor for the Riverfront Times.
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